To Queue or Not to Queue

My first experience of a German taxi rank filled me with despair. For a country famous for being orderly I could not comprehend the chaos that ensued and the people pushing past me to hail the next cab. ‘This is the queue!’ I stifled in my best pigeon German, but my words fell on deaf ears, presumably because the people had already zoomed off in what I thought should have been my taxi. There was nothing else for it, I would have to go native, stick my elbows out and suppress the urge to queue, however hard that would be for a Brit like me.

We Brits are renowned worldwide for our love of queuing. We queue for buses, taxis, in the bank, on waiting lists for operations and even on the telephone when phoning a call centre, but why are we so obsessed with queuing when our European neighbours are happy to push past one another to get what they want first? The British have been waiting in line for decades, since the days of rationing during the war and the advent of public transport, so it is somewhat of a tradition for us. As a nation we are not very open to change, so perhaps that is why we have not adopted the European fashion of pushing in front. Queuing is also one of those things us Brits love to hate, rather like the good old British weather. For as much as we love queuing, we love to moan. It is strange however, that the Russians, who during communist times were also famed for their queuing, have now completely abandoned the practice. It seems they got fed up of waiting! According to Immigration minister Phil Woolas, ‘the simple act of taking one’s turn is one of the things that holds our country together’, echoed by the British government’s proposal this week for immigrants to answer questions on queuing etiquette in the citizenship test, so it seems like queuing is here to stay.

There are certain unwritten rules one must abide by in a queue, the most important being do not queue jump. It is considered a faux pas, moreover socially unacceptable, to break the golden rules of queuing. Such are the rules that if you are seen queue jumping in swimming pools and theme parks you will be thrown out ! This really does happen. Saving spaces for people in queues is also frowned upon – if you leave the queue you must then go to the back of the queue. There is also the matter of talking whilst queuing. Generally, unless you have been queuing for a sufficiently long time, talking is not customary, rather like on the London underground. If you have been queuing for a while you can then collectively moan about how long it has taken to queue up and what a shambles it is.

Last week I was minding my own business in a queue when someone tried to push in front of me, but before I could say anything the nice German man in front of me had intervened on my behalf. It seems there is hope after all!

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